Wartime History of Golf #5 - The Niblick Brigade

By: | Mon 05 Nov 2018 | Comments

Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Picken has a passion for golf and researching the history and tales behind the courses that we play on. Much of his recent interest has centered on the First World War, a topic that is timely due to the upcoming centenary of Armistice Day that brought the Western Front of that conflict to an end in 1918. Those events affected everyone, not least of all those connected with golf. In this series of articles, Andrew has explored the connections between those wartime years and the game.

I recently had a wonderful surprise following the publication of the series of articles I have written commemorating the 100 years since the end of World War 1.

The work was very personal as it also served as a tribute to my late parents who died recently. Dad was awarded the British Empire Medal for his voluntary work supporting the Royal British Legion and he was ably supported by Janet. Together they worked tirelessly for 77 years. I therefore know the great work done by the funds raised through the Poppy Appeal and I chose to research golf related stories linked to the conflict.

I have been astonished by the response and have been on a real journey of discovery.

Consulting with the Imperial War Museum (IWM), they have helped me with my researching. Once the work is completed I in turn will assist them by reporting of war memorials that had not previously been registered with them and also pass on a number of photographs of current war memorials to add further to the excellent record maintained for future generations by the IWM.

Initially my idea was to ensure that the “Everyone Remembered” scheme supported by the RBL would have all 1.1 million service personnel acknowledged. I shouldn’t have worried as this was done weeks ago. This scheme was conceived by a 14 year old visiting the war graves in France. She commented that it was sad that some graves did not have flowers on them and she felt all who sacrificed should be remembered.

The database features every individual who died in the conflict and offers the opportunity to record a message of remembrance and to add a story to each entry.

My first story about John Parr, the first casualty in the war has now been added to his biographical information for posterity. This database will become an incredible resource for future historians.

My research also revealed that golf had its own PALS regiment known as the “Niblick Brigade”.

These regiments were formed when friends volunteered together and entire communities had all the men conscripted at the same time. Many sports and trade organisations formed similar groups.

I came across the following video supported by my golfing hero Sir Nick Faldo in 2016 to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion has consented to us providing a direct link to it. I am sure that you will find it interesting.

Further researches led me to discover that the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was a formal partner of the Legion and was fully supporting the efforts to ensure that everyone was remembered.

I found out that Doctor Phil Weaver OBE was also undertaking extensive research into the 102 golf professionals who volunteered to go to war as part of the Niblick Brigade.

Phil was awarded the OBE for his services to golf over a 50 year career. He had been a Head Professional and Course Manager at Coventry golf club before becoming the Chairperson of the PGA in 1989. He is one of the sport's leading administrators including serving as the Joint Chair of the Ryder Cup committee from 1989 to 2005.

He is now the curator of the PGA and I was extremely honoured to be invited to visit the PGA collection and see at first hand the wealth of priceless golfing memorabilia that is being looked after on behalf of future generations.

He has completed an incredible piece of work where all of the 102 golfers have a separate biographical entry made and added to the Everyone Remembered web site for all time. He has researched service records, hundreds of press reports and many other resources to build up a picture of the life and times of each of these men.

There are some incredible stories contained within his work. He has populated each individual’s record with as much information as possible including photographs etc. It is a wonderful, permanent tribute to those who volunteered and sacrificed. These are just a few examples of the submissions now recorded.

Albert George Victor Cottrell

Henry Joseph Cottrell

Harold Cadwell

For me these records present a moving and real tribute to the men and their families who lost so much during this conflict. Each was a professional golfer who volunteered to serve his country. Most did not return. The video supported by Sir Nick Faldo was bullish in its tone as it was to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Most of these men died after this event as the fighting intensified and casualty figures mounted to horrifying levels.

Consider the story of  James Milligan who had emigrated to America and was a golf professional at Wyoming Valley Country Club in Pennsylvania. He learned that each of his three brothers back in Scotland had joined the Colours and each in turn would die one by one on the field of battle. He returned home to look after his mother, was conscripted soon after his return, and would fall in action too fighting with the Highland Light Infantry in April 1917. An entire generation wiped out.

James Milligan

There were five golf professionals all from the village of Bridge-of-Weir just outside of Glasgow  all of whom would make the ultimate sacrifice. Two in particular Robert ‘Bobby’ Barr and Robert ‘Bertie’ McDougall also makes for a tragic tale which you will learn if you visit the Everyone Remembered site.

Robert “Bobby” Barr

Robert “Bertie” McDougall

As you play your golf this week please take a moment to consider these men and the sacrifice they made on our behalf. Our world would not be the same without their efforts.

Many clubs are honouring the fallen by displaying special pin flags or holding ceremonies on Sunday 11th November 2018 at 11.00 am. If your club is not, please ask the question. Why?

If you wish to support the fund raising efforts of the Royal British Legion in a practical and fun way please follow this link to be provided with a full pack to enable you to run a quiz at your clubhouse. Everything is provided. It will be a great social event and raises funds for an extremely worthy cause.


Most golf clubs formed before The Great War will have some form of permanent memorial at the premises. Not all are known or registered with the Imperial War Museum. If you wish to ensure that your clubs records are recorded please contact us with details and a photograph and we will ensure that the information is passed to them to ensure that future generations are made fully informed.

Contact [email protected].

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